Social Gatheka Number 29
Renunciation is in fact denial of the self and the denial
of that is the one which will be of use. As all things in
this world can be used and abused, so the principle of renunciation
can be used and abused. If renunciation, as a principle,
was a good thing, then there seems to be no purpose at the
back of the whole creation. The creation might well not
have been manifested if renunciation were the principle.
Therefore renunciation in itself is neither virtue nor sin.
It becomes a virtue or a sin according to the use we make
When one considers it from the metaphysical point
of view one finds that this principle is used as a stair
to rise above all things. It is the nature of life in the
world that all things we become attracted to, in time become,
not only ties, but burdens. If we consider life we see it
is an eternal journey. The more one is loaded with burdens
on one's shoulders, the more the journey becomes heavy.
Think how the soul, whose constant desire is to go forward,
is daily retained by the ties – continually more burdened.
One can see two things:
l. As the soul goes on, it finds as
on its feet chains.
2. At every step that the soul goes forward it is more
attracted; it becomes more difficult to go forward.
Therefore all the thinkers and wise who have come to
the realization of life have taken renunciation as a remedy.
The picture that the sage makes is like the fable of the
dog and a piece of bread. The dog carrying a loaf in its
mouth came to a pool, saw the bread in the water, thought
that the shadow was another dog; howled, barked, and lost
his own bread.
The more we see our errors in life, our petty desires,
the more we find we are not far from the fable of the dog.
Think of the national catastrophes of recent times! How
these material things of the world, ever changing and not
everlasting, have been pulled at and fought for. This shows,
that man, blinded by material life, disregards the secret
hidden things behind life.
When we come to reason out what one must renounce and
in what way one must practice renunciation, there is a lesson
to be learned. Because no virtue is a virtue if it is forced
upon one incapable of it. A person upon whom a virtue is
forced, who is forced to renounce, cannot make the right
renunciation. No virtue that gives pain is a virtue. If
it gives pain, how can it be a virtue? It is called virtue
because it gives happiness. That which takes away happiness
is never a virtue.
Therefore renunciation is rightly practiced
by those who understand renunciation and are capable of
practicing it. For instance: there is a person who has only
one loaf of bread. He is traveling in the train, finds somebody
hungry, in need of bread. He himself is hungry also, and
he has only one piece of bread. If he thinks it is his dharma
to give it and starve, and is unhappy about it, he would
have done better not to give it, because it has no virtue,
if he has done it once, surely he will not do it again next
time, because he has suffered by it, as the virtue brought
him unhappiness. This virtue will never develop in his character.
That person alone is capable of renunciation who finds a
greater satisfaction in seeing another with his piece of
The person whose heart is full of happiness after the
action, that person alone must make a renunciation. This
shows that renunciation is not a thing that can be learned
or taught. It comes by itself as the soul develops; when
the soul begins to see the true value of things. All that
is valuable to others, a seer soul begins to see otherwise.
This shows that all things that we see as precious or not
precious, their value is according to the way we look at
them. For one person, the renunciation of a penny is too
much; for another that of all he has is nothing. It depends
on how we look at things.
All things one renounces in life
one rises above. Man is a slave of the thing which he has
not renounced; of things that he has renounced he becomes
king. This whole world can become a kingdom in his hand
if a person has renounced it. But renunciation depends upon
the evolution of the soul. One who has not evolved spiritually
cannot well renounce. For the grownup persons, little toys
so valuable to children are nothing. It is easy for them
to renounce this. So it is for those who develop spiritually
– all things are easy to renounce.
Now we come to the question: how can one progress in
this path of renunciation? By becoming able to discriminate
between two things, which is the better. A person with the
character of the dog in the fable cannot renounce. He loves
both things. Life is such that when there are two things
before our view, it is demanded of us to lose one of them.
It depends upon man's discrimination what to renounce and
for what, whether to renounce Heaven for the world, or the
world for Heaven, wealth for honor, or honor for wealth.
Whether to renounce things momentarily precious for everlasting
things or everlasting things for things momentarily precious.
The nature of life is such that it always shows two things.
Many times it is a great puzzle to choose between two things.
Very often one thing is at hand and the other further from
reach. It is a puzzle to renounce the one or how to get
to the other. Very often man lacks will power to renounce.
It does not require only discrimination between two things,
but also will power to do what we think to do. It is not
an easy thing for a man to do in life as he wishes to do.
Think how difficult is life! When we ourselves cannot listen
to ourselves, how difficult then for others to listen!
Many times one cannot renounce because one's own self
cannot listen to one. Renunciation can be learned naturally.
One must first train one's sense of discrimination, to discriminate
between what is more valuable and what is less valuable.
That one can learn by testing it as the gold is tested by
the imitation gold. That which lasts for a little time and
then turns black is imitation; that which always keeps its
color is real. This shows the value of things can be realized
by their constancy. You might ask, 'should we not recognize
the value of things by their beauty?' Yes. True, we must
recognize by beauty; but we must recognize beauty by its
Think of the difference of price of the flower
and of the diamond. The flower with all its fineness, beauty
of color, and fragrance, fall short in comparison to the
diamond. The only reason is that the beauty of the flower
will fade next day, and that of the diamond will last. This
shows a natural tendency. We need not learn it, we are always
seeking for beauty, also for that which is lasting. Friendship
that does not last, however beautiful, what value has it?
Position, honor that does not last, what value? Although
man is like the child, running after all that attracts and
is always changing, still his soul seeks constancy.
Therefore in learning the lesson of renunciation one
can only study one's own nature, what the innermost being
is yearning for. To try and follow one's own innermost being.
Wisdom comes by this process of renunciation. Wisdom and
renunciation both go together, by renunciation man becomes
wiser, by being wise, capable of renunciation. The whole
trouble in the lives of people in their house, in nation,
and everywhere is always the trouble of man's incapacity
of renunciation. If civilization can be explained in other
words, it is only a developed sense of renunciation which
manifests itself in consideration for each other. Every
aspect of courtesy, politeness, shows renunciation. When
a person offers his seat to another or something that is
good, it is renunciation.
Civilization in its real sense
is renunciation. The highest and greatest goal that every
soul has to reach is God. As everything wants renunciation,
that highest goal wants the highest renunciation. Although
a forced renunciation, even for God, is not proper, not
legitimate. Proper renunciation one can see by those who
are capable of doing it. There is a story in the Bible of
Abraham sacrificing his son. Man today is likely to laugh
at some of the ancient stories, reasoning according to his
own point of view. But think, how many fathers and mothers
have given their children as a sacrifice in this war, for
one's nation, one's people, or honor. This shows that no
sacrifice can be too great a sacrifice for one's ideal.
There is only the difference of ideal, whether it is a material
or spiritual ideal, whether for earthly gain or spiritual
gain: whether for man or God.
As long as renunciation is practiced for spiritual progress,
so long it is the right way. As soon as renunciation has
become a principle, renunciation is abused. Man, in fact,
must be the master of life. He must use renunciation, not
go under in renunciation. So it is with all virtues. When
virtues control man's life, they become idols. It is not
idols we must worship; it is the ideal we must worship in